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Archives: March 2009

March
31st

Pierce County trims its budget by $8 million. More cuts are coming.

The Pierce County Council put the finishing touches on a revised budget Tuesday that tries to plug an $8 million hole.

One problem: the hole has already grown to $10 million to $12 million.

Here’s what you need to know:

Revenue shortfall: The council action follows a January report that slumping sales tax and interest income had created an $8 million revenue shortfall in the $289 million general fund.

The solution:
To address the shortfall, County Executive Pat McCarthy proposed cutting $5.3 million in spending and using $2.7 million in fund balances and other adjustments.

On Tuesday, the council approved a plan that cuts deeper ($6.1 million) and relies less on fund balances and adjustments. The council also made some last-minute adjustments, like boosting spending on senior centers and trimming the assessor-treasurer’s office less than originally proposed.

The impact: County departments will respond to the cuts in various ways.

The planning department will implement a nine-day furlough for some workers, pending union approval. The parks department will reduce facilities maintenance and staff time devoted to some programming. The sheriff’s department may reduce patrols on several lakes and on Puget Sound. The human resources department will cut positions.

It was unclear how many layoffs would result countywide.

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March
31st

House, Senate budget-writers make it hard to compare cuts

The House and Senate have come up with differing ways to close the same $9 billion budget shortfall that is projected over the next 28 months. Each budget has thousands of elements and strict comparisons are difficult to make. The list below is my feeble effort to compare and contrast some of them.

I’m not going to compare the House and Senate budget cuts to what the governor proposed in mid-December because the Legislature had to fill a $1 billion bigger hole than the governor. State revenues had fallen by $2.9 billion more, but the state got $2 billion more in federal funds.

(I’ve numbered each item only so you can compare them.)

HOUSE BUDGET PROPOSAL
1. Leaves $852 million in savings.
2. Public school and state agency job cuts: Unknown. Could be 7,000.
3. Tuition: Allows 10 percent hikes for four-year colleges; 7 percent for two-year colleges.
4. Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment Support Act and General Assistance Unemployable programs: Cut medical coverage by $35 million out of current $250 million.
5. Keeps McNeil Island prison open.
6. Close Naselle Youth Camp by Jan. 1, 2010.
7. Freezes pay for state and public school employees for two years.
8. Cuts overall higher education funding by $683 million.
9. Cuts overall K-12 funding by $625 million.
10. Parks: Assumes a $5 voluntary fee on license tabs. Seasonal closures.
11. Federal stimulus: Spends $3 billion.
12. Extra money to reduce class size: Cut from $458 per student to $184 in 2009-10 and to $152 in 2010-11.
13. Open 15 new liquor stores.
14. Adult Day Health program for low-income seniors: Eliminated.
15. Basic Health Plan: State subsidy continues for about 65,000 people, down from 106,000.
16. No estimate for cuts to college enrollment, but leaves decision to universities.
17. Lets 50 percent of ex-cons who violate terms of release from jail spend punishment time in home detention.

SENATE BUDGET PROPOSAL

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March
31st

Read this if you care about state parks; another set of eyes

As I said, I have to rely on other sets of eyes to figure out what’s going on down here in the Legislature, and one of those sets belongs to Jim King.

King pays close attention to the parts of the budget that affect state parks and recreation, so I’ll defer to his analysis right now, and until I have a chance to more closely examine that part of the budget myself.

What follows is what I have just sent to the grassroots supporters of our State Parks and outdoor recreation programs. Wanted to share my thoughts with ya’ll. I’ll be swallowing hard and trying to help make the opt-out car tabs work. The context in the Senate makes that a little bit easier- a bit of sugar with the medicine.

I’m going to be away from the laptop for Senate Ways and Means, but will otherwise be available if needed.

Jim

Folks:

Yesterday, when the Senate proposed operating budget was released, there was cause for elation. The release of the House proposed operating budget today was a more sobering event.

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March
31st

Would $5 parks money be a fee or donation? AG says donation

You’ll probably see me refer to it as a “voluntary fee,” despite the opinion offered up by the Attorney General’s Office.


Today, vehicle owners have the option to donate $5 or more to parks ($5 is the minimum) when they renew their license tabs each year. You have to make a conscious decision to give that money by checking a box and writing in the amount.


That’s called an “opt in” method. The state raised $700,000 with that method last year.


There is talk in the Legislature of changing that to an “opt out” method, in which

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March
31st

Gregoire names new DSHS secretary

I’m still catching up, given all the budget rollouts this week.

Susan Dreyfus will replace Robin Arnold-Williams as Gov. Chris Gregoire‘s new secretary of the state Department of Social and Health Services.

I missed the news conference, but I saw part of the rerun on TVW. Dreyfus said her husband is a judge in Wisconsin, so theirs will be a long-distance relationship. She starts her new job May 18. Her salary is $163,056.

Gov. Gregoire announces appointment of new DSHS secretary

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire today named Susan N. Dreyfus, a Wisconsin executive with more than a dozen years of leadership experience in both the private and public health sectors, to head Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services.

"Susan brings an outstanding record of accomplishment, particularly in the areas of child welfare and mental health services," Gregoire said. "She has the knowledge, leadership experience and vision necessary to succeed in one of the most difficult jobs in state government. The demands placed upon the agency are enormous and expectations are high, a situation that will deepen in this recession. Susan is exceptionally qualified and ready to take the reins."

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March
31st

House closes $9 billion budget hole by freezing teacher pay, boosting tuition rates and other stuff their Senate brethren did

That is, budget-writers spent almost $3 billion in federal stimulus funds, took $800 million from building projects and plowed the money into other state programs and spent most of the $700 million Rainy Day savings account.

“We are using federal money, which has been a godsend,” said Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham, chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

She said the House budget proposal would be balanced, but she expects a tax package to be put to voters at some point, perhaps providing additional funding for education and-or long-term care.

“It’s very likely that a proposal will come,” Linville said. “(But) the revenue package is not something we’re pinning all of our hopes on.”

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March
31st

Report: Pierce taxpayers not hurt by missed property inspections

There is no reason to believe property owners were harmed because the Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer’s Office skipped tens of thousands of property inspections in recent years, a new report concludes.

The report, submitted to the County Council Monday (here’s a PDF copy), also finds Pierce County appraisers have a high workload compared to their peers elsewhere in the state. But it concludes there is no need to increase the number of appraisers at this time.

Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam plans to address the report’s findings at this afternoon’s council meeting. His initial reaction: "It’s not a good report. It’s not accurate."

The report by the council’s performance audit staff comes three weeks after Washam announced the office had failed to inspect at least 181,000 residential properties and tens of thousands of commercial properties as required by state law.

Assessor’s documents and interviews with assessor’s office employees indicate the missed inspections occurred over six or more years under Washam’s predecessor, Ken Madsen.

The law allows local assessors to use statistical methods to assess properties annually for tax purposes. But it requires them to physically inspect every property at least once every six years.

Those inspections can catch significant improvements or deterioration that can affect property values. And they allow appraisers to update property descriptions used in the statistical methods that determine values most years.

Washam told the council recently there is no way of knowing how taxpayers were affected by the missed inspections. The performance audit report reaches a different conclusion:

"There is no reason to believe that individual property taxpayers were harmed by missed physical inspections of their homes in the past," the report states.

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March
30th

Gregoire to announce pick for DSHS secretary on Tuesday

If you’ll recall, Gov. Chris Gregoire moved Robin Arnold-Williams, former secretary of the state Department of Social and Health Services to head up her policy shop.


Gov. Gregoire to announce new DSHS Secretary


Event Date: Tuesday, March 31


OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday will announce the appointment of a new Department of Social and Health Services Secretary.


9 a.m. Gov. Gregoire announces DSHS Secretary


Governor’s Conference Rooms

Legislative Building- 2nd floor

Olympia